Between 1891 and 1920 more than 18 million immigrants entered
the United States. While many Americans responded to this influx by
proposing immigration restriction or large-scale "Americanization"
campaigns, a few others, figures such as Jane Addams and John
Dewey, adopted the image of the melting pot to oppose such
measures. These Progressives imagined assimilation as a
multidirectional process, in which both native-born and immigrants
contributed their cultural gifts to a communal fund.
Melting-Pot Modernism reveals the richly aesthetic
nature of assimilation at the turn of the twentieth century,
focusing on questions of the individual's relation to culture, the
protection of vulnerable populations, the sharing of cultural
heritages, and the far-reaching effects of free-market thinking. By
tracing the melting-pot impulse toward merging and
cross-fertilization through the writings of Henry James, James
Weldon Johnson, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein, as well as
through the autobiography, sociology, and social commentary of
their era, Sarah Wilson makes a new connection between the
ideological ferment of the Progressive era and the literary
experimentation of modernism.
Wilson puts literary analysis at the service of intellectual
history, showing that literary modes of thought and expression both
shaped and were shaped by debates over cultural assimilation.
Exploring the depth and nuance of an earlier moment's commitment to
cultural inclusiveness, Melting-Pot Modernism gives new
meaning to American struggles to imaginatively encompass
difference-and to the central place of literary interpretation in
understanding such struggles.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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